A Review of 'The Godfather' and The Corleones
The Godfather is Francis Ford Coppola’s opus magnum. Praised by many critics to be one of the greatest films ever put to the screen, no film can create such an evocation of pure emotion, not just from the people in the seats of the audience, but the actors who were on the screen. The writing is true to the characters, the scenery and lighting is almost perfect in every scene, and the even the gore and grit are all masterfully put together to create what is seen as nothing less than a masterpiece of entertainment.
The film opens to a man’s face taking up the focus of the screen, surrounding him is pitch black, a light hanging just over him, illuminating the pattern baldness atop his head and darkening around his mouth. Through his thick Italian accent, he begs vengeance for his daughter. A group of young Irish men had tried to take advantage of her, but she fought them off, only to be beaten to a bloody pulp by her boyfriend and attackers. The dark room reveals itself to be the office of the mob boss, Don Vito Corleone. This dimly lit room is the room where decisions and men are made. After asking for respect and a favor from the man, he accepts his offer and gives the job of hospitalizing the Irishmen to Peter Clemenza.
The next scene we see is almost the antithesis of the one before. An obvious façade of a light and cheery mood happens just outside the window where the deal was made. A wedding celebration for the daughter of Vito is taking place, this brightly lit scene with boisterous music and voices further the separation of the seedy underbelly of the crime empire the family runs, and the “normal” family they present themselves to be. Women and men dance to the sounds of the Sicilian band playing which further emphasizes the close connection to the family’s roots, an ever-important belief to Sicilians, that family and heritage are closely bound. These scenes give the distinction of the Corleone family, and the Corleone “Family.” The light and cheery side of their life cover up the bloody and morally corrupt business they run. Even at the wedding, there are constant reminders of their shady work they do, with deals being made and an FBI presence that would make any hardened criminal nervous.
The Godfather’s many characters that color the universe created by the film bring the script to life. Marlon Brando in universally revered for his spectacular portrayal of the titular character Don Vito Corleone, or the Godfather. Al Pacino, who despite the near refusal of the studio, was given the role. Pacino gives an amazing sense of innocence to Michael Corleone. His standout performance and an amazing ensemble cast make the film the classic that it is today.
Don Vito Corleone is the leader of one of New York’s major five families. The viewer meets the middle-aged man in the opening scene of the movie. Almost from the instant, he appears, there is a level of unpredictability to his character. Behind his calm demeanor, you can see cunning and experience in just his face. Wrinkles and liver spots seem almost deliberate in their placement, everyone showing a year of life, and an experience that the audience is left to imagine. Later in the film, we see an attempt to assassinate the prolific mob head. Even though the attempt failed he is taken out of leadership, which was then given to his eldest son Sonny before he was killed in an ambush at a toll booth trying to get revenge for his sister’s beating. In his old age and before his death, Vito Corleone becomes almost a mystic. He can read any situation and see the outcome, even if it’s the least likely outcome. He warns Michael of the impending attempt on his life in true Oracle fashion in the form of a riddle. We see a major change by the time of his death. He’s given up the crime life and relaxes in retirement. He babysits his grandson, who he arguably loves more than his sons. With an orange peel in his mouth and a smile on his face, the once great crime boss falls—not to a gunshot, but to the worst killer of all, time.
Michael, the youngest of the Corleone children, and the most powerful of them is the focus of the movie. Despite his original disdain for the criminal lifestyle, he is inexorably drawn into the world his father created. He wants to live an honest life. One of happiness and peaceful bliss. He goes to college to be a math teacher, and his father even approves of the life he has chosen. Innocent to all that is going on around him, Michael becomes engrossed the dark underbelly of the crime world. The attempt on his father’s life brings him to the realization that somethings got to give. He either kills or sees the family patriarch taken out. He goes to see his father in the hospital, only to see that nobody is there, not even the police. He comes to realize that they are finishing out the hit on his father. The fluorescent lights humming and the end of a record repeating the same phrase. All giving the sense that something is off. The scenery lends itself to a physical representation of the anxiety Michael feels. He finds his father alone in his room, with the only nurse left in the building (who probably didn’t get the warning to leave). Michael takes his father and brings him to a different room. As footsteps that aren’t theirs fill the hall he peeks his head from behind the glass pane of a door, obscuring what little innocence is left in his face. While saving his father’s life and gaining his respect, he loses any naivety he has left.
The Godfather’s theme of total respect is apparent in every scene. When Michael is sent to Sicily after killing the police chief who broke his cheek, he meets a woman named Apollonia. She is kept safe by her Father who is upset by a random man wanting to meet his daughter. Michael is forced into the Sicilian style of courtship, which is seen as very sacred in their tradition, so much so that all the women in Apollonia’s family follow them on a walk through the countryside. This respect to be kept up until marriage. Even then they believe in this divine family respect. No matter what, the family is more important than anything else. Women are still treated as second class by their own family, nobody else better lay a hand on any of them. Even the oldest of the Corleone son’s is killed trying to “take care” of his sister’s husband problem. She was being beaten senselessly and begs for help from her older brother.
Another common theme in the movie is the use of doorways. Doorways are the entrance to another world. These worlds are the world of mob violence and the outer façade of law-abiding citizens. Such as the doorway in the hospital covering Michael’s face. My favorite example, however, is the ending of the film, just moments after Michaels lying about killing Fredo to Kay. She leaves his office. With one quick glance back in, she sees goons surrounding Michael. One gives a respectful kiss on the hand, Michael orders the door shut, stoicism covering his face, hiding his intentions from his wife. The screen then fades to black and the credits roll, leaving the audience to wonder what’s to come of the next film.
Overall The Godfather is an artistic embodiment of the Sicilian mob’s code of honor, “Omerta.” This is the idea of undying love and loyalty towards family, no matter what happens, you don’t cross your family. The only time anyone goes against the family they are taken out, they’ll "sleep with the fishes.” Sicilians are strict, but it’s because they want the best for the people they care about. Vito Corleone takes care of his family and will do anything to make sure they’re taken care of. This trait is passed on to his youngest son Michael. Even when he’s faced with a difficult situation like a traitor in the family, he does what’s best for everyone, he doesn’t care if there’s blood on his hands, he wants nothing to get in the way.
The Godfather is a visually stunning and masterfully filmed movie that creates a universe of its own with rich characters and scenery that lend itself to an accurate telling of what life is like in the world of the Mafia. The lighting makes the characters emotions more visible. The directing gives the characters a believably that jumps out of the screen. This comes from first-hand accounts of my own family. My uncle was a “Made Man” before leaving the family and being killed in his beach house in Hawaii from “natural causes.” The Godfather sheds light on a world that is as dark as it’s shown. It isn’t glorious, it isn’t clean. This world takes lives and makes empires. Nothing will get in the way, or you will be taken out of the way. The movie is a genius telling of the Corleone family and the crime empire they created.